PUBLIC UTILITY, CHICAGO, USA
Ecstasies is a multimedia meditation on embedded capitalism as a form of secular faith. Interweaving the works of Hildegard von Bingen with stochastic compositions, manipulated samples from large-scale datasets, and machine-voiced text from state-of-the-art language models of increasing complexity, Ecstasies explores the aesthetics of growth as dogma and the sanctified place aspiration occupies in the contemporary psyche.
Post Consumer Material is X. A. Li and Estlin Usher. We describe our sound as “artificial industrial” in response to a modernity in which desire is manufactured by algorithms and needs are satisfied by objects more symbolic than concrete, hyper-designed yet ephemeral.
Ecstasies is presented in accompaniment with video from X. A. Li's Instruction (2023), featuring synthesized speakers across countless self-help videos.
Available as a limited edition physical release and digital download on Bandcamp.
Ecstasies is a multimedia meditation on embedded capitalism as a form of secular faith. Interweaving the works of Hildegard von Bingen with stochastically synthesized compositions, manipulated samples from large-scale datasets, and machine-voiced text from state-of-the-art language models of increasing complexity, Ecstasies explores the aesthetics of growth as dogma and the sanctified place aspiration occupies in the contemporary psyche.
We live in an age of the optimized self, where countless products and media promise a transcendent fulfillment centered on an ideally constructed personhood. This is not limited to the material but extends to the mind, the heart, the soul. The psyche treated as an imperfect frontier in need of colonization, emotions to be hacked and conquered yielding a more positive, more resilient, and more productive person. In both analog and digital spaces we encounter content demonstrating how to make the right choices, consume the right things, exhibit the right values — self-help books, media reviews, glowing videos of how cheerful women get ready and clean their home. We compress our human passions and chaos into succinct social media pages, CVs, personal websites, artist statements, dating profiles, delineated by the labor we perform, the clothing brands we wear, the aesthetics we endorse, the television shows we enjoy, all to assert that we are in the end worthy. In following these rituals we hope to become beautiful, correct, sublime.
From this totalizing enormity arises the era of deep neural networks, distilling all of the beliefs and values collectively emitted by society into gigabytes of dense matrices. Yet “artificial intelligence” is incapable of novel thought. Rather it serves as an undiscerning mirror of contemporary culture, documenting our collective output in a manner so flatly factual — a synthetic author without subjectivity, striving solely to reproduce existing patterns — that the representation becomes grotesque even while indisputably true. The ability of transformer-based large language models to generate compelling prose has of course accelerated in the past several years. At the time of this release ChatGPT and GPT-4 have already dwarfed their preceding variants. For Ecstasies we intentionally selected models of varying “quality” for both text synthesis and text-to-speech — the mirror, however small or distorted, still reflects. The imperfections of these earlier models offer a less blunted voice, in some ways more revelatory than their polished successors that, in pantomiming humanity without flaw, regurgitate strict replicas governed by the same layers of artifice and tact obfuscating our own discourse. In this way they are also, literally, optimized.
In Hildegard von Bingen’s age religion was certitude, not an identity to be chosen or a set of beliefs to adopt but a metaphysical truth towards which all choice and virtue was sublimated. Within the international neoliberalism steadily eroding all other cultural distinctions, there is no ideology with equal supremacy except that of more. Economies must expand, stock prices must rise, and the individual internalizes this absolute imperative on a personal scale. One’s duty to purify and perfect under an elusive framework of quantified actualization now holds the foundational self-evidence of faith. Today’s visions of great, blinding glory contain the heavenly beings not of a mystical other but of our ideal selves, under a culture that promises progress and enlightenment if we aspire and labor towards that luminous end. Reinforced by a choir of mechanical reproductions superficially embodied, does this insistent canon ring true? Or does it provoke a nauseated dissent from which heresies can spring
Post Consumer Material is X. A. Li and Estlin Usher. We describe our sound as “artificial industrial” in response to a modernity in which desire is manufactured by algorithms and needs are satisfied by objects more symbolic than concrete, hyper-designed yet eternally ephemeral. Ecstasies is accompanied by video from X. A. Li’s Instruction (2023) featuring synthesized speakers across countless self-help videos. Created in Chicago, IL, United States from 2021-2023. Mastered by Rashad Becker.
A new kind of optimism. And a new kind of optimism. And a new kind of optimism. And a new kind of optimism. And optimism. And optimism. And optimism. And optimism. And optimism. And optimism. And optimism. And… we’ve got to look forward to. Because hope is a very powerful combination, a very powerful combination at work here. It allows us to look forward to the future, even if it will mean hard times for humanity and great challenges for the world. And optimism is a powerful combination. And we’ve got to look forward to that. And optimism. And optimism. And optimism. And optimism. And… and we’ve got to try to make sure that we’ve got the best for all of humanity. And we’ve got to try to make sure that we’ve got the best for humanity. And we’ve got to try to make sure that we’ve got the best for us. And we’ve got to find ways to make sure that we’ve got the best for us. And to find ways to make sure that we’ve got the best for us. And we’ve got to find ways in which we can help give people the best of both worlds that we want in a kind of caring, caring, caring, caring. And I think that’s what’s so exciting about hope, and so many of us are seeking to do is harness that hopefulness. Because I think that hopefulness can be very empowering. Because I think so many of us have a very pessimistic view of the future. And so hopefulness can be very reassuring. Because hopefulness can be very reassuring to see people connecting with each other. And in the end, we’re all hopeful, but in the end, we make our own fate. We don’t make it any more certain that we’re going to get through it. Because that’s the end of the world. That’s the end of the world. And I think that optimism is what’s really going to make us hopeful. Because that is not the world we know it inhabits. That’s the world that we are currently in. That is the world that we’re going to inhabit for the rest of our lives. Because we are living in that world. And that is what that hopefulness really demands. That is what that hopefulness demands. That is what the hopefulness of the human spirit is going to be. And that is what I think is so incredibly hopeful about hopeful writing. Because it is, to a certain extent, a contradiction in terms to be a hopeful person.
And as long as you're confident it's safe, you're safe. If you're worried about letting someone take your life, then it's better to ask for help. If it's not safe, then it's likely that you're not performing your job. Giving getting to know your community will make you more progressive. Being cool with your way of thinking increases your chances of being able to trust people. Being outgoing makes your job easier, increased trust in your leadership ability. Being the right people, or not having it, will make you more likely to find career and job security. To be cool with your way of thinking, you need to be able to set your goals. Others will have to work with you. And it'll obviously take you longer. Which means you'll have to figure out how to get there first. Do what you gotta do to get there. Not just to save lives, but to save lives for generations to come. Don't be self-centered. Learn to be less dependent on others. Educate yourself instead. Do not be too greedy. Do not expect people to tell you what to expect, but to help you figure things out. Do not offer people anything it doesn't understand. Introduce them to the world. First, keep responsibility down. Second, feel good about your results. If you're popular, people will start making money for you. Third, act like an actor by giving it your all. People will be more likely to see you as a great role model. The most important piece of advice I've heard about this is: Don't get too carried away with your certainties. They may well be wrong, but it's OK to shift how you think and act because you're getting from what you've been given. And I bet a lot of people like to give it their all, but they also prefer to do it without any expectations that others might have. This is the kind of advice I've said a lot lately. And it's a good thing nobody is continually saying it's OK to fail merely because you're desperate to be accepted. Trust and security don't just come through emotion and belief (though they can!), but by relying on these features of life itself. And to "be safe," be willing to fall in love. Trust and security require so much dedication and dedication that you need to be able to know how to be that person for decades to come. I'm sure that these aren't easily attained. There are times when you need to do what's right and give something you're not entitled to, but not all of them are. So trust and security really matter. And they're not about this lack of confidence, but they also matter in a way that raises the stakes. It doesn't take a genius to have an ability to trust your boss (or your product or other company). It takes a genius to have an ability to trust isn't equal to trust and security. And to be successful, you need to be willing to take risks.
I believe in the spectacle of progress,
a future infinite and shimmering,
an infinity that is not the infinity of an atom, a cell, or a molecule,
but in fact of all bodies in all respects, infinitely big.
I believe in my ability to construct myself
as a being I may cherish, born of flesh and yearning,
self from self, flesh from flesh, yearning from yearning
a continuity of being, a condition of being.
I believe in the logic of my own longing.
I believe in my ability to be a person.
I believe in the power of my spirit
to be the me of my dreams.
For myself and my actualization
the world was constructed.
Within my mind, my spirit lives
and shall continue to dwell,
having no other obligation than to be me.
For my sake the world churns,
silica from grit and sand into hallucinations
of beauty and wonder and all that is possible
in accordance with my voice, my touch, my wish.
The public is like a piece of glass,
a jar that I must shatter and insert the shards into
the world if I am to make it clear.
All will be restored again in glory
to replenish and resume and resurrect
and this kingdom will have no end.
I believe in potential, fulfillment, an optimized me
who proceeds from science and progress and freedom
who through freedom is adored and sanctified,
who speaks through me, and that is you.
I believe in the future, in my own future.
I confess countless sins that make me pure.
Against the resurrection of death I arrange all the
wondrous pieces of me until unblemished and whole.
I look forward to the life of the world to come,
at last pristine.